The Central Park Five Reviews
Whereas it is safe to say that New York City has changed dramatically over the decades, it is not quite as "The Central Park Five" alleges, barely glancing over the changes in the police department, along with perceptions that go beyond just those concerning race. For example, Meili felt comfortable enough to jog in the park after dark, as Central Park has always been less a sacred space as Koch testifies(It's neat that he allows to be interviewed here, considering his past intemperate comments. It would have been nice to have gotten other officials on the record to see how some of them sleep at night.), than a commons for all of the city's people to enjoy, even as the documentary via the tabloids of the day would say otherwise.(Not to be facetious but there are two ways I can tell a neighborhood is safe: joggers and dog walkers.) By the way, the only thing stopping New York State getting the death penalty at the time was Mario Cuomo's courageous annual veto.
Another thing this film portrays is how the police and district attorneys regarded these kids as guilty from the beginning before it even reached the newspapers. Then they became guilty in the eyes of the media, which then landed the final blow by creating the same guilty conclusion in the minds of much of the public. "The Crime of the Century" it was called. And in the end of it all, it turns out they were actually innocent. So I guess it was the crime of the century---just not one perpetrated by these kids, but instead the one perpetrated by the system.
The original case received so much media attention in 1989 that I think it was impossible to not hear something about it and this was the days before the internet and easy 24-hour access to news. Meanwhile, when a black woman was raped and thrown off of a roof in Brooklyn on the same day, it got very little attention. The racial implications in this Central Park jogger case were very disturbing and well elucidated in the film.
Taking 5 14-16 year old kids and coercing them into giving false statements of guilt just to close a case under pressure. It sadly also resulted in the actual guilty person to roam free and commit more rapes while these innocent kids were being convicted.
This is an incredibly sad tale and I had been wanting to see this film since it first came out in theaters. It brought back a lot of memories. It is tragic indeed and not something that should be forgotten, but unfortunately their exoneration got very little attention so most people from the time I'm sure have no idea of how this all turned out. I didn't even know until I heard of this film, which was 23 years later.
The film is an important film for that reason. It is the greatest public statement of the injustice that was carried out in a number of different ways by different criminal justice departments of our system. Legendary documentarian Ken Burns and his daughter Sara, as well as her husband, did an excellent job of bringing the social/political implications and ramifications to light with both heart and a commitment to factual rigor.
This film really should be watch by many more people, especially those of us from this time period. I conveniently saw it on netflix.